Narcan or Not? Law Enforcement Agencies Vary on Approach to Overdoses

While Donations and Grants Make Narcan Easily Accessible For Police, Some Choose Not to Use It

SUPERIOR, Wis.- The number of people dying from opioid overdose in the Northland is not slowing down.

Five people died in the Duluth area in January alone, and across the bridge in Superior overdose calls are becoming more frequent – and often police officers are the first ones on scene.

Now, even the smaller law enforcement agencies are now faced with a big decision: should they carry the drug that can reverse an overdose, or not?

The biggest reason some departments carry Narcan is because while fire and EMS wait at their prospective stations to be called to an emergency, police are always out patrolling which could often place them closer to the scene of call than medical services. It’s an opportunity some credit with saving lives.

Since 2016 all Superior officers carry Narcan on them. Chief Nicholas Alexander says compassion is part of their approach to fighting the opioid epidemic. He knows the decision to carry, is a big deal to many addict’s families.

“What would you do to have one more chance to save their life?” said Chief Alexander. “ For most people it would be about anything.”

Superior started Pathways to Hope, it’s a new program that offers people a chance to get treatment.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of it,” said Chief Alexander. “ Simply arresting people possessing drugs and are addicted, they will get arrested and go to court and get a fine. They’ll continue getting arrested, on a warrant and there’s a cost and unpaid fines.”

Pathways to Hope allows some to choose between jail, or recovery.

“When people commit a crime and the root cause is addiction, if you meet criteria for the program than you can go to jail or get access to treatment,” said Chief Alexander.

So far about 30 people have chosen to enter the program, and it’s got a fifty percent success rate of people still in treatment.

FOX 21 wanted to see how many local departments also choose to carry Narcan, so we sent out a survey to 20 of the biggest law enforcement agencies in the Northland. We found more than a dozen departments have officers trained and carrying Narcan. Most have been supplied by donations – specifically by the Steve Rummler Foundation, and local philanthropy groups. Some counties have made room in their budgets for additional supplies if they run out.

Lt. Jeff Kazel, with the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force says Narcan is one of their essential tools in the fight against opioid deaths.

Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec wouldn’t sit down for an interview with FOX 21 on the subject but said in an email the department does not train deputies on how to use Narcan, and wrote “the biggest issue is the size of the county. With the vast majority of medical calls for service being dispatched to the local volunteer fire departments, they are typically the first on–scene.”

Chief Alexander says time will tell just how big of role this little white nasal spray will play for law enforcement for years to come.

“In law enforcement handfuls of agencies start doing something innovative and it catches on,” said Chief Alexander.

For part one of this special report, click here. 

Categories: Crime, Health, News